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Sports Illustrated makes things up; Misses the point about Antwan Darling and Kenbrell Thompkins

A couple of weeks ago Sports Illustrated ran a piece that concluded a six month investigation into crime in College Football. The basics are thus. There is a crime rate in college Football, shocking, I know and that coaches are willing to overlook certain aspects of potential recruits to get them to sign on the dotted line. None of this is particularly new or indeed news worthy. The information is readily available to the general public. EDSBS even runs the Fulmer Cup each and every off season. It is a rundown that includes all of the arrests for division 1 players in a given week in the off season. My feelings about the prevalence of crime in college football are two fold. 1) yes crimes are committed by division 1 Football players, I am not trying to say that it doesn't happen. But is the percentage of division 1 players who do commit crimes that much higher than the general population, or the population at universities in particular? That's very doubtful. 2) It's a not a story, more an inevitability. What really bothers me is the moral outrage about this story. As someone who was arrested as an undergrad and had the absolutely divine pleasure of being a member of the Hamilton County probation system for a year the talk of an arrest being this life defining event is quite frankly nauseating. The simple truth is that people fuck up. It happens. Frequently. But when most people fuck up their family hears about it, their friends hear about it, and they have to inform any potential employer of their misdeeds for seven years. If you are a college athlete your misdeeds become fodder for message boards and an easy mark for any columnist to lazy, stupid or inept to come up with an original idea for a story. When people usually talk about crime they do it in a lazy, hackish way that is usually bereft of perspective. The Sports Illustrated piece certainly applies.

The reason I am bringing this up is that two Cincinnati Bearcats are featured pretty heavily in the piece, Antwan Darling as the paragon for all that is wrong with crime in College Football. And Kenbrell Thompkins as a begrudging example of how taking a chance on a guy with an iffy back ground can work out well not just for the school put for the person.

If you don't know their stories, or don't feel like reading the piece to find out, and I feel your pain on that, here are the basics. Kenbrell Thompkins and Antwan Darling grew up in roughly the same area. Thompkins in Liberty City, an area known for two things above all the Liberty City Riots and Football players, Chad Ochocinco, Melvin Bratton, Antonio Bryant, and Jacory Harris are just some of the people from the area who have been successful at Football from that area. Darling grew up 2 or so miles from Liberty City, possibly in West Little River, but I am not too sure on taht. Both went to pretty rough schools with some history in producing Football players, Northwestern for Thompkins, Central for Darling. Both of them were arrested for felonies while they were still in high school, neither was charged, but the arrests are on the record.

Those are the basics of the story. What I don't get, and don't agree with in the slightest is the notion put forward by the authors, who are so straightforward and hackish that they don't even merit mentioning by name. They are just hacks. So what I don't agree with the hacks on is the notion that the ability of athletes, this is where they mention Darling, get special treatment from the court system, which is bull shit. There was no mention at all that the diversion program that Darling participated in to get the charges removed from his record is available for anyone who commits a crime of that nature, not just Antwan Darling.

They paint a general picture of those athletes who do get in trouble being bound to repeat those acts again and again, which is short sighted and narrow minded. It makes no mention what so ever of the effect that environment can have on the behavior of people, kids in particular.

Look at Noel Devine and all that he went through in the run up to his attendance at West Virginia. He lost his father at three months, his mother at 11, both of them to AIDS. He bounced around houses of family and friends for a couple of years before settling down with anyone. At 15 his best friend died of a shotgun blast to the chest. He briefly moved in with Dieon Sanders in Texas in the summer prior to his senior year in high school before running away back to Florida. All of this controversy swirled around Devine and was news nation wide. But since Devine arrived in Morgantown have you heard anything about him getting in trouble? Not a word. A change in environment did wonders for him.

I have waited to discuss this subject but, not being a shill, I wanted to at least hear Darlings side of the story. And I found this. I know that Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell is far from a colossus of journalistic virtue. But he is clearly embedded in the community that Darling comes from and has a relationship with him. And what Uncle Luke talks about in his column, for want of a better word, is the importance of environment and how difficult it can be for a kid with Darlings back ground to break the cycle.  Darling was put in a situation where he could have fought the charges leveled against him, and likely would have won but would have lost his scholarship offer in the process. Or he could accept the charges, attend the diversion program and be able to accept the scholarship offer from UC. He chose the latter and less than a year later has his name tarnished in one of the most popular and widely circulated magazines in the country. 

If someone is going to do a piece like this they have to do it properly, they have to show both sides of the story for all the specific players that are mentioned. Look at more than just the criminal records, talk to the coaches, current, and most importantly in the case of Darling, past as well. The hacks did none of that with Antwan's story. They simply read the police report from the incident, looked at the court records and called it a day. They didn't even double check to see if any of the charges they were going to run with had been rescinded, which happened with the imaginary gun charge. I don't know what their intentions were but the effect was to use the recruitment and enrollment of Darling to personify the lack of oversight and due diligence in recruiting players. That the player and the school conspired to circumvent the legal system with an end goal of getting an aggressive criminal to play Football. I don't think that is the case, I also don't think that everything is as rosy as Campbell pictures them. The truth more than likely lies somewhere in the middle. But if you want to be a good journalist dig a little deeper and find the middle ground. If they were going to site specific examples of whatever their objective is find the truth or at least print both sides of the story. The hacks didn't do that because the opposite side of the story contradicted the main argument that they are trying to make, that College Football is overrun with criminals, an argument that is probably morally bankrupt and at the very least patently bull shit.

Thompkins had a rough go of it when he was in high school. Thompkins had if anything a longer rap sheet than Darling. That is why he didn't get recruited out of high school and had to go to El Camino Community College in Torrance, CA. Thompkins worked his ass off to get his life straightened out. The change in environment played a huge role in that transformation. His hard work is noted in the piece as a success story, but they didn't actually look into Thompkins and his past, they just lifted pieces, verbatim from this story published last year. The entire thing is just so lazily written, nothing could possibly stand in the way of their "College Football Crime Wave" meme.

The hacks finished this tour de force off with a couple nice fluffy paragraphs like this one.

The issue isn't that colleges should never accept a kid who has made a mistake; part of education is second chances. But too many football programs, out of a desire to win more games, either overlook a player's past or don't bother looking into it at all. That's a flaw in the system that has to change.

The same could be said of these fuckers who did half a job and called it a day. I don't mind opinions counter to mine, I actually enjoy them. But I do hate people who are intellectually lazy and this entire thing from the idea on up is just so lazy.